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Losing green Punjab

Once a green state, Punjab is now entering an ecological crisis that can get severe, writes Bharati Chaturvedi.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2007 15:00 IST

Punjab is not the prosperous green state it is made out to be. In fact, it is entering an environmental crisis that is threatening to be severe, compounded by the changing context of land use and indebtedness.

The Kheri Virasat Mission (KVM), based in Faridkot, has brought these concerns out, just as politicians bring out their vote-seeking machinery.

Three environmental issues are the most pressing, KVM recently declared, using existing statistics to prove its point. The first is that there is a water crisis and it is worsening. Regardless of whether Punjab decides to reap benefits through farming or through developing land, its water needs are increasing.

From 1.92 lakh tube wells in 1970-71, the number has shot up to 14 lakh now. Meanwhile, the area irrigated by tube wells has increased from 37 per cent to 78 per cent.

The water table is also dropping. In 1973, just 3 per cent of Punjab had a water table lower than 10 metre. In 2002, this climbed up to 76 per cent. Apart from other impacts, it is creating a scarcity of drinking water in most villages. And KVM is furious at the ludicrous idea of politicians of creating more tube wells. What about the resources they ask?

The second environmental concern is, predictably, related to pesticides. Punjab consumes 18 per cent of India’s pesticides, but accounts for only 2.5 per cent of the agricultural area. A toxic phase-out and clean-up are only partial solutions, and honestly, after the contamination, I don't expect there will be a complete one. But they have to be launched on a war footing if residents are to given a healthy future.

The third problem is of health, mostly related to cancers and congenital deformities. We don't have a range of studies to explain the high rate of neural tube defect babies or fetal loss, but policy-makers need to rush in to stem what could be a massive loss in productivity for the state.

No matter who wins these elections, it is vital that they act without delay and attack the problems at their root. How tragic, otherwise, to go to Punjab, the land of fabled hospitality, and not even get a glass of clean water.

Cheating kept neutral

I have been enjoying a sarcastic website about carbon offsetting or credits. It is called cheat neutral. It promises you that if you do cheat, you can pay an amount, which they will pass on to, say, a single man to stay single. This offsets your cheating. And if this makes no sense, (and it should not make any sense) points out that paying someone to keep their greenhouse emissions under control is just as unjustified. I second that opinion.

If you feel for planet earth, write to

First Published: Feb 19, 2007 15:00 IST